Referee Who Forced Teen Wrestler to Cut Dreadlocks Says He's Suffering 'Emotional Distress'
In December, footage of the teenager's hair being cut by Buena Regional High School coaches just moments before his fight quickly went viral
A former referee who required a black teenage wrestler to cut his dreadlocks before a match may be taking steps toward filing a lawsuit by alleging he’s endured emotional distress since the incident made headlines last year.
After deeming the teenager’s hair cap was not in accordance with regulations, New Jersey referee Alan Maloney forced the high school wrestler Andrew Johnson to choose between cutting his dreadlocks and forfeiting a match in December.
Footage of Johnson’s hair being cut by Buena Regional High School coaches just moments before his fight quickly went viral, and while Johnson went on to win the fight, he was still visibly upset with what transpired before the match. Maloney, who is white, was heavily criticized following the match for his decision, and many accused him of racism.
Attorneys for both Maloney and the Johnson family did not immediately return PEOPLE’s request for comment.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Maloney has since been barred from officiating varsity competitions, which would net him nearly $84 per match.
Maloney, the newspaper reported, recently sent a notice of tort claims to a dozen potential defendants, including the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) and Buena School District officials. Such a notice is required before filing a lawsuit against a public entity.
The embattled referee said he’s endured $100,000 in damages due to the “defamation of character and emotional distress” he has experienced following the incident.
Maloney also defended his decision to have Johnson cut his hair, saying he “properly performed his duties as the referee and fairly applied the rules governing a wrestling match,” according to the New York Daily News.
The Johnson family’s attorney, Dominic A. Speziali, refuted Maloney’s claims on Twitter.
“Ref Alan Maloney presents claim of emotional distress, defamation & lost income, puts potential [defendants] Buena School District, Buena Borough, NJ Atty General, Dept of Ed., NJSIAA, Atl. County, & County Clerk (deeds/elections) on notice,” Speziali wrote on Tuesday.
He added to the Daily News: “To the extent referee Alan Maloney plans to ever file a claim as a victim in this incident is outright absurd.”
Johnson, currently a junior in high school, went on to complete his season with 19 wins.
December’s incident was not the first time Maloney was accused of racist behavior.
According to an October 2016 report from the Courier-Post, in March that year, Maloney allegedly called a fellow referee, Preston Hamilton, who is black, the N-word during a small gathering of a group of officials. Maloney and Hamilton worked together at a youth tournament in Wildwood earlier that day.
Hamilton told the paper that Maloney poked him in the chest while saying the epithet and, in response, Hamilton slammed him to the ground. Maloney reportedly told the outlet that while he doesn’t remember the incident — there was alcohol present at the gathering — he believes the multiple eye-witness accounts.
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The New Jersey Wrestling Officials Association later ruled that it didn’t have the authority to fire Maloney over what happened. Its president, Guy Siraki, said in a statement at the time: “We’re going to move forward from here and hopefully this thing has been resolved in the back of a lot of people’s minds.”
According to the Post, Maloney volunteered to pay for and participate in both an alcohol awareness and sensitivity training programs as punishment.